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Secrets to SA’s sporting success

Press Release   •   Aug 06, 2015 13:30 GMT

Top coaches reveal some of the ways they use science to create a competitive edge in peak performance.

When top coaches got together at the recent Discovery Vitality Summit at the purpose-built Discovery Dome in Sandton, Johannesburg, several star, peak-performance secrets emerged.

1 Training consistently

Doing the same training over time and building on that programme allows athletes to build skill, strength and perform at their best.

“As a coach, you want to make sure your athletes can perform on the days that count,” says Lindsay Parry, head of the University of Pretoria’s Institute for Sports Research, national triathlon coach, and coach of the 2015 ladies Comrades winner, Caroline Wöstmann.

“Keeping athletes healthy so they can train day in and day out, year in and out; that’s how we get performance,” he says. Wöstmann was a novice runner seven years ago. “She came to me a year ago and said she wants to win Comrades,” he says. “I said give me five years, she did it in one!”

2 Keep healthy, be prepared

“Helping athletes remain injury free is 90% of the job of coaching,” says Parry. You can do it by keeping them healthy. Keeping healthy in turn means consistent training is possible, which keeps you at your physical best. As Wöstmann says: “I was always sore, but after a month of running with Lindsay I never ran with pain.”

Professor Wayne Derman, of the Stellenbosch University Sports Science and Sports Medicine Research Unit, and coach of the SA Paralympic team, adds: “Preparation takes place all year round for our athletes, with a full team’s input, along with continuous monitoring to avoid injuries.” He added all-round support and creating a feeling of family add to the team’s success.

3 Having goals and dreams

To win big, you have to dream big, says Dr Carol Austin, head of Performance Support and Medical at Team MTN-Qhubeka, Africa’s first pro road cycling team, which debuted spectacularly at this year’s Tour de France.

The team’s success came down to several simple strategies and some serious planning over the past 10 years: “Know where you are, and where you want to go. You have to plan short-, medium- and long-term goals. It’s pleasing to look back and see how we moved forward.”

In such an effective implementation there was a massive amount of detail going on, fuelled by unwavering passion, commitment and belief.

In pro cycling, access to races and competition of a global standard is an essential element of training. Looking at Louis Meintjes when he joined MTB Qhubeka he was doing about 60 race days a year, but only 10-27 were ranked. “We gave him the opportunity to do UCI ranked races, at that level you need to be racing 10 000km a year, on 70-80 race days,” says Dr Austin. He has made incredible progress over last few years after entering the European racing programme.

4 Emotional support

One of the greatest motivators for success is a supportive environment.

“Create a family,” says Prof Derman: “When you include all people’s goals in the family structure – it means there is support on an emotional level, and you are together in celebration or commiseration.”

Understanding the care and support of athletes, and developing this family support structure was a particularly special trait of the MTN/Qhubeka pro cycling team. “Support and togetherness helped to do that,” says Dr Austin.


Notes to the editor

The Discovery Vitality Summit being hosted in Illovo, Johannesburg, today, 06 August 2015, is an open platform that brings together pioneers and leading thinkers in sports science, high performance, fitness, nutrition, technology, health, wellness and psychology.

It creates shared knowledge around the latest global health and wellness developments, while encouraging debate and interaction amongst industry stakeholders.


Professor of Sports Science and Sports Medicine, Stellenbosch Research Unit for Sports Science and Sports Medicines


Head sports scientist at the University of Pretoria’s Institute for Sports Research at the High Performance Centre and head coach of the 2015 ladies Comrades’ winner, Caroline Wostmann.


Head of Performance Support and Medical at Team MTN-Qhubeka pb Samsung, Africa’s first professional road cycle team. Under Carol’s leadership the team has progressed African athletes from national to world tour level performances. The team made history in the 2015 Tour de France as the first African team, and earned respect by leading the Climbers Classification, winning a stage, achieving multiple top-10 performances and contending in the team competition.

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About Discovery Limited

Discovery Limited is a South African-founded financial services organisation that operates in the healthcare, life assurance, short-term insurance, savings and investment products and wellness markets. Founded in 1992, Discovery was guided by a clear core purpose – to make people healthier and to enhance and protect their lives. Underpinning this core purpose is the belief that through innovation, Discovery can be a powerful market disruptor.

The company, with headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa, has expanded its operations globally and currently serves over 4.4 million clients across South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, China, Singapore and Australia. Discovery recently announced an intent to partner with Generali, a leading insurer in Europe, and has partnered John Hancock in the US. These new partnerships will bring Discovery’s shared-value business model to protection industries in Europe and the US.

Vitality, Discovery’s wellness programme, is the world’s largest scientific, incentive-based wellness solution for individuals and corporates. The global Vitality membership base now exceeds three million lives in five markets.

Discovery is an authorised financial services provider and trades under the code “DSY” on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange. 

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